The E-Journal of Music Research (EJOMUR) is an open-access journal from Ghana that publishes academic articles, conference papers, dissertation and thesis chapters, and book reviews in music. EJOMUR was first published in August 2020 and since then, their readership has grown to include academics, musicologists, composers, historians, musicians, and those interested in music research. All research articles submitted to the journal undergo a double-blind peer-review process, and issues are subsequently published online monthly.
EJOMUR publishes original articles on a wide range of topics in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, systematic musicology, music education, and music literature.
Find this journal in RILM Abstracts. Listen to Kwesi Gyan, a 21st-century chamber orchestra piece that combines Apatampa rhythms and folk music with contemporary compositional techniques. The piece is featured in an article in the July 2023 issue of the journal.
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Grace Bumbry’s appearance as the first African American singer in the role of Venus in Wagner’s Tannhäuser from 1961 through 1963 sparked fierce reactions. By the age of 23, Bumbry had created such a stir in the opera world that she was invited to audition in Bayreuth for Wieland Wagner, the grandson of the composer Richard Wagner, where he would be producing a new production of Tannhaeuser. When the press discovered that the new Venus was a Black singer, protests began to appear publicly in various publications. Wieland Wagner stated that his grandfather would want the best voice for the part and remained steadfast in his decision to cast Bumbry. Her racial background did not dissuade him, and neither did the negative press. Bumbry courageously performed the role and changed the history of opera by becoming the first person of color ever to be cast in a major role at the prestigious Bayreuth Festspielhaus. The next day, the critics called her “Die Schwarze Venus” (The Black Venus), and a new star was propelled into international stardom.
In those performances, Bumbry paved the way for opera singers of color. She grew up in modest surroundings in St. Louis, Missouri and as a young girl became interested in music after attending concerts given by Marian Anderson. Bumbry’s life was forever altered by the concerts, and she soon absorbed every recording of classical music she could find. At age 16, she won first prize in a local radio contest which provided her the opportunity to appear on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show, a popular U.S. radio and television variety show, where she sang “O Don Fatale” from Verdi’s Don Carlo.
Bumbry later studied at Boston University after encountering racist policies at the St. Louis Conservatory. She continued her studies with Lotte Lehmann in Santa Barbara, California in 1955 and finally with Pierre Bernac in Paris, where she made her debut at the age of 23 as Amneris in Verdi’s Aida at the Théâtre National in 1960. She made her debuts at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden London, as Princess Eboli in Don Carlos in 1963, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1965, and at La Scala in Milan in 1966. Around 1970 she shifted her full, energetic mezzo-soprano voice to soprano and went on to sing Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Salome in Richard Strauss’s eponymous opera. From the late 1980s onward, she returned to her lower voice and took on character roles such as Baba the Turk in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at the Salzburg Festival in 1994.
Bumbry passed away on 7 May 2023 at the age of 86 in Vienna.
Read the full obituary on Grace Bumbry in MGG Online. A previous posting on Bumbry in Bibliolore can be found here: https://bibliolore.org/2017/01/04/grace-bumbry-black-venus/
Below is a video of her performing Vissi d’arte, a soprano aria from the opera Tosca by Giacomo Puccini.
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Skinny Puppy has long been considered a classic band in the electro-industrial genre. Formed in Vancouver, Canada in 1983 by cEVIN Key (Kevin Crompton) and Nivek Ogre (Kevin Ogilvie), Skinny Puppy was influenced early on by Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and Suicide. The band soon created an innovative “hard electronic” sound that combined audio samples of films with heavy metal guitar aesthetics. When asked about the 1980s industrial scene, Ogre stated, “The original idea for industrial music was just a category for abstract ideas and abstract music. . . It didn’t matter what you used. Glass in your cupboard or a rat running across your floor.”
On their first tour, shortly after the release of the Remission EP, Wilhelm Schroeder (Billy Leeb) joined the band as a keyboardist in live performances. In 1986, he left the band to start Frontline Assembly and was replaced by Dwayne Goettel of Psyche. The first LP on which Goettel was involved, Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate, was Skinny Puppy’s worldwide breakthrough. Through this and the following albums and tours, the band garnered fans and gained a strong reputation globally.
In a 2020 interview, cEVIN Key described their songwriting process as having remained fairly consistent over the years. According to Key, “I still luckily own all the original equipment, so I can use that formula if I wish or can improvise with using elements of that formula. We were using a computer to sequence our [early albums] so in this case it’s quite the same even though technology has advanced greatly. . . Luckily, I was trained well by being in a band with five other guys who each had their own world. It’s in this training that I received writing albums, recording, and touring that I was able to grasp the experience to come and produce my own ideas. . . At the time Skinny Puppy was formed, the scene in Vancouver was so vibrant that our first goal literally was to have a song played at the local disco. So, I think, we all started with small goals, and they grew exponentially.”
Part of Skinny Puppy’s success has been that their music, politics, and song lyrics have engaged with the contemporary social issues that have driven them since the band’s foundation, especially animal rights—which inspired their name and albums such as VIVIsectVI. The band also famously billed the U.S. government $666,000 in 2014 for its use of their music played at intolerably high levels in the interrogation of accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. As one of the industrial genre’s most influential bands, Skinny Puppy have laid the groundwork for the mainstream success of acts such as Nine Inch Nails. Now celebrating 40 years together, the band has embarked on their farewell tour in 2023.
Read about Skinny Puppy and many other industrial and electronic artists in Das Gothic- und Dark Wave-Lexikon: Das Lexikon der schwarzen Szene (The gothic and dark wave lexicon: The lexicon of the black scene). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.
Below is a classic video of Skinny Puppy performing Assimilate. Enjoy!
Initiated by Isidore Isou (born Jean-Isidore Goldstein), a young refugee from Romania, lettrism was a multidisciplinary creative movement that began in Paris in 1946 but soon expanded by attracting numerous creative people. Lettrist work was inspired by calligraphy, initially for books but also for visual art. In the age of print, it was quite innovative, although it may not have fared as well in preprint times. One recurring device is letters that resemble verses, even though they are devoid of words. Prominent writers and artists based in France such as Jean-Louis Brau, Gil J. Wolman, Maurice Lemaître, Roberto Altmann, Roland Sabatier, and Jean-Paul Curtay were among those associated with the group at various times.
The movement was named Lettrism because historically it was first and foremost interested in rethinking poetry, which at the time was judged to be exhausted when conveyed simply through words and concepts. Poetic lettrism clearly and systematically for the first time (taking inspiration from Dada) proposed a new conception of poetry entirely reduced to letters and eliminating all semantics. Not unlike other self-conscious agglomerations, lettrism was particularly skilled at producing manifestos which can be read with varying degrees of sense. By discounting semantic and syntactical coherence for language art, some lettrist works are considered the precursors of concrete poetry. Among the alumni are Guy Debord (1931–94), who is commonly credited with initiating the Situationist International (1958–72), which, according to some, represents art’s most profound, courageous, and successful involvement in radical politics. While Situationist writings have been translated into English, lettrist texts largely have been left out.
Find out more about lettrism in A dictionary of the avant-gardes. Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
The first image above was created by Roberto Altmann, and the second by Maurice Lemaître–both were artists associated with the lettrist movement.
Below is a video of Orson Welles interviewing Isidore Isou about lettrism and sound poetry in 1955. Be sure to turn up your volume when watching it.
Ahmad Jamal’s laid-back, accessible style of jazz featuring dense chords, a wide dynamic range, and use of silence initially drew criticism from the jazz press early in his career. This style, however, soon became ingrained in the jazz soundscape. The critic Stanley Crouch wrote that bebop’s founding father, Charlie Parker, was the only musician “more important to the development of fresh form in jazz than Ahmad Jamal”. Miles Davis declared, “[Jamal] knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement, and the way he [phrased] notes and chords and passages.” Jamal’s unmistakable style consisting of an economical and relaxed manner of playing encompassing pauses, distinctive rhythmic accents, a distinctive sense of melody, and a soft intonation. It befitted the intimate instrumentation of the piano trio, which formed the focus of his work. Clint Eastwood borrowed two tracks from the album At the Pershing for his 1995 romance film The Bridges of Madison County. Jamal also inspired hip hop musicians, including Nas, De La Soul, Gang Starr, and Common, all of whom sampled his 1970s work.
Jamal began playing piano when he was three years old and began piano study with Mary Cardwell Dawson at the age of seven. He competed successfully in piano competitions by the time he was eleven and performed publicly in recitals. In his early years, Jamal listened not only to jazz, which he referred to as “American classical music”, but also to Western music. “We didn’t separate the two schools,” he told The New York Times in 2001. “We studied Bach and Ellington, Mozart and Art Tatum.”
In the early 1950s, he converted to the Islamic faith, changed his name to Ahmad Jamal, and used that name for his trio. Jamal recorded extensively, toured widely in the United States, Europe, Central, and South America, and played long residencies in nightclubs of New York and Chicago, among other cities. He also was active in television and films and played on film soundtracks, including the M*A*S*H soundtrack (1969). He also toured as a soloist, and is best-known for his album But Not for Me. He played in the avant-garde style and exerted wide influence upon trios of the 1960s and 1970s.
Ahmad Jamal passed away on 16 April 2023.
Read more about Ahmad Jamal’s life and jazz career in the Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians (1982). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME). Also find the obituary on Jamal in MGG Online.
Below is a performance by Ahmad Jamal in 2012 also featuring Yusuf Lateef.
Music teachers often deal with clients that are children or young adults. Researchers from the field of neuroscience and the aging brain have, however, demonstrated that music education benefits the brain and cognition throughout a person’s lifespan. They also have noticed the existence of patterns of decline from early adulthood in processing speed and accelerating declines in memory and reasoning. The development and refinement of neuroimaging techniques within the last twenty years or so has allowed for exploration of how the behavior and neurophysiology of musicians may differ (if at all) from non-musicians. Music training affects a wide range of cognitive abilities associated with brain enhancement including verbal processing, intelligence, reading, auditory processing, decision-making, and so on. Researchers have also found enhancements in cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency in musicians.
Music training also may induce neuroplastic changes and enhancements. Firstly, brain volume (gray matter and white matter) increases with musical training. Playing a musical instrument has been associated with increased white matter thickness in motor, premotor, and supplementary motor, prefrontal and parietal cortices–in other words, brain volume increases occur with musical training. Secondly, musical training changes connectivity and functional connectivity in the brain. Research has found that changes in the auditory-motor network for young adults over 18 beginning music training suggest that music training can influence brain plasticity even after brain maturation is almost complete.
In some cases, older adults with at least 10 years of musical experience displayed better performance in far-transfer tasks such as nonverbal memory, naming, and executive functioning tests than non-musicians or musicians with less than 10 years of musical experience. Other benefits include reduced age-related decline of fluid intelligence in older musicians, increased inhibition, and increased executive functioning. Overall, current research suggests that lifelong engagement in musical training maintains the brain in a younger state and enhances neural functioning.
Read more in “Music education and the aging brain” by Patricia Izbicki and Christina L. Svec (Contributions to music education 47 , RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-6592.
The above image is a mapping of human brain connectivity featuring dorsal and lateral views.
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The reign of King David Kālakaua holds special significance for Hawaiian traditions. After decades of missionary-led censure, Hawaiian customs became revitalized when Kalākaua encouraged their revival. Master teachers (kumu hula) were summoned to the court at Honolulu, where they enjoyed royal patronage. From the environment, hula ku‘i emerged as a new style of dancing.
The term ku‘i means “to join old and new”, and refers to the mix of old and new components of poetry, music, dance, and costume. Traditional conventions gained a new format: texts were strophic, and each strophe consisted of a couplet. Indigenous vocal styles and ornaments were added to melodies based on tempered tones and simple harmonies. Each couplet was uniform in length, most commonly eight or sixteen beats. The format mandated the repetition of the melody for each couplet, and each couplet was commonly performed twice. An instrumental interlude, popularly called a vamp, separated the stanzas. In dances by seated performers, this interlude is called ki’i pā. New sequences of movements joined preexisting, named, lower-body motifs.
The defining distinction of the hula ku‘i was accompaniment from guitars and ‘ukulele. For dances by standing performers, mele composed in the new format also had the accompaniment of ipuor other Indigenous percussive instruments. In the 20th century, performances of those mele came to be called either ancient hula or hula ‘ōlapa, referencing the division of labor between dancers (‘ōlapa) and musicians (ho’opa’a).
Read the entry on hula ku‘i by Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman in The Garland encyclopedia of world music. Australia and the Pacific Islands (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
The image above is of hula dancers and musicians, circa 1883. Photo courtesy of the Hawai’i State Archives. Below is a video of Hawaiian dance and music from the 2019 Merrie Monarch Festival held annually in Hilo, Hawaii.
“After being in Vietnam for over two weeks visiting all possible leads on musical instruments, I was struck with a mild case of musical instrument information overload. One day, I wandered into the central part of Hồ Chí Minh to buy something for my lunch. There, I spotted the Hồ Chí Minh City Museum.
I deliberated, will I or won’t I go in? I supposed they were probably going to close for the midday intermission soon but I decided to give it a quick look. Entering the gates I spotted the ticket office, enquired as to their operating hours, and asked if there were any musical instruments on display. Yes, they were open and yes, they had musical instruments on display. Hip hip!
Wandering around the museum, I found that most of the few musical instruments were already entered in my notes. Therefore, I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the mõ đình, a log slit drum. My last steps were to be the gift shop where I looked eagerly through the books, hoping that one may have information on musical instruments. I was disappointed to find most related to the Vietnam War. I did, however, procure two inexpensive musical instruments–a song loan and a sênh suứ.
Upon leaving, I was surprised to notice one last hidden room down a small hallway. I found two instruments I’d never seen, read of, or been told about before – the chordophones đàn măng đôlin (similar to the mandolin) and the đàn octavina (comparable to the steel string guitar). Both had been adapted from their western equivalent, with a ribbed fingerboard, like the lục huyền cầm (Vietnamese Guitar). I never did get lunch that day, opting instead to visit the Traditional Musical Instruments and Costume Showroom, two blocks away. Sadly this showroom has since closed down.”
The above excerpt is taken from Terry Moran’s Vietnamese musical instruments: A monographic lexicon. (2020). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME), and read up on all the Vietnamese instruments he mentions here.
Above are two musicians performing in a coffee shop in Ho Chi Minh City. Below is a video of a musician playing the đàn măng đôlin, an Vietnamese instruments similar to the mandolin.
Religious music played an important role in the founding of Québec City. Activities aligned with festivities of the liturgical calendar, while public prayers, processions, and Sunday masses forged a social fabric in an atmosphere of religious fervor. François de Laval (1623–1708), the first Bishop of Quebec, founded the Diocese of Quebec and created new churches, schools, and charities. Quebec Cathedral has been at the center of musical life thanks to its institutional and educational role. Laval brought from France an organ which was installed in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame-de l’Immaculée-Conception in 1663.
During English colonial rule, church music was gradually adopted by locals or immigrants from Germany and Britain. St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (1810) houses the oldest congregation of Scottish descent in Canada. Its origins date back to 1759, when the regiment of the 78th Fraser Highlanders of General James Wolfe’s (1727–1759) army was stationed in Quebec.
The churches were not only places of community where music was played and heard during services, but also provided the framework for ambitious musical initiatives that became the nuclei of ensemble concerts. For example, on 26 June 1834, Stephen Codman, the musical director of the Anglican Cathedral of Holy Trinity, invited 111 choristers and 60 musicians for a sacred concert featuring works by Haydn, Mozart, Handel, Cherubini, and Rossini. The popularity of European choral repertoire led to the creation of the Union musicale in 1866 and the creation of the Société Musicale Ste-Cécile in 1869.
Learn more about Quebec’s musical life in a new entry on MGG Online.
The image above is of Basilique Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Québec, and below is a concert choir performance at the cathedral.
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Ryūichi Sakamoto was one of Japan’s most internationally influential musicians. Sakamoto’s career began in electronic pop music as a keyboardist with the band Yellow Magic Orchestra, which he co-founded in 1978, and which triggered a boom for this genre in Japan. At the same time he released his first solo album Thousand Knives. His understanding of music, which transcended genres, became evident on numerous other albums combining pop music, ambient, jazz, and electro-acoustic music, ranging to early forms of house and techno. His works in addition include the operas Life (1999) and Time (2021). Sakamoto studied composition and ethnomusicology at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music from 1970 onward, where he first came into contact with synthesizers.
He is also known for his music for films by Nagisa Ōshima (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, 1983), Bernardo Bertolucci (The Last Emperor, 1987; The Sheltering Sky, 1990; Little Buddha, 1993), Pedro Almodóvar (High Heels, 1991), and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant, 2015), as well as for his music for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992. Sakamoto’s final studio album 12–comprising 12 miniatures for piano accompanied by synthesizer sounds–was released in January 2023. He died in Tokyo on 28 March 2023 at the age of 71.
Look out for a full article on Ryūichi Sakamoto’s life and musical activities coming soon to MGG online (www.mgg-online.com).
Below is a video of Sakamota performing his composition Blu with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.
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The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s … Continue reading →
Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black … Continue reading →
For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →